Greetings, Minions! In this late hour, I wanted to address the Complete Monster and its craft (this TvTrope page is short and has precious few links so relatively safe from getting you trapped in a wikiwalk).
The Complete Monster is an appealing villain I think because as much as we all love badace heroes who are just so kickbutt and awesome and valiant, we also love terrifying, dreadful villains that are so awful and horrendous that their very existence makes us all a little worse. The idea of True Evil is an interesting one – it’s linked to black and white morality, which we all know is a farce but it’s a romantic idea to us anyway. Black and white morality makes things easy and there’s nothing like an enemy that is just bad – “at least we know for certain that he needs to be destroyed”.
So I’ve spent a lot of time declaring that villains are people too, but how does this reconcile with the Complete Monster? The CM has absolutely no concept of love or any sort of empathy. He lacks humanity – so he’s not really a ‘person’. He IS a monster. Does this mean I don’t think you should make a CM?
There are precious few rules in writing that a writer can’t break and have it work. I should hope that if I said, never make a CM, many of you would disobey me. But I’m not going to give that directive, instead I’m going to caution. CMs are quite difficult to pull off well. A large portion of the difficulty is alleviated if you are familiar with and practiced in executing my five main points of villainy, particularly that a villain does evil things because he is evil, not the other way around. Even with that mastered, however, a proper CM that not just your characters but that your reader will properly fear and despise is still a hard sell because for something so soulless as a CM, without the ability to truly relate to the character, the CM comes off as a movie monster. Terrifying, sure, but fake. And yet, the whole point of a CM is that it’s beyond redemption, beyond immoral. Beyond evil. The reader should not, cannot, relate to this thing.
And that’s where villains being people, too, come in. My best advice is that, even if it’s pre-book, you develop your CM. He, or she, needs to have been a person at some point in time. No one is born a complete monster, even if they are well pre-disposed to become one, in either nature or nurture. If a villain does come directly into existence as a CM, I think what you have more is a primordial evil and not so much a complete monster and you’re going to have the hardest of times selling it otherwise. Is it possible? Yes. But I wouldn’t try it unless your story needs it – your story cries for it, your story wants it, not just you. So come up with the character’s past. You don’t even need to necessarily tell the readers that past, allude to it, hint at it – you just need to know it. Like so much else,that hidden background for your use only, never to present itself in the story, will make your writing better. It will help you shape his motives, which he still needs to have, and adequately else he fall into mindless monster territory. It will help you with his personality – which again, he still needs to have. A CM isn’t a creature that must be destroyed, it’s a person that must be destroyed (or sequestered or whatever) – and people have personalities. It’s the qualities you need to watch for, the redeemable qualities.
A possible requirement for a psychopath is glibness. What that means for you is that your CM could, potentially, even be appealing in personality. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a redeeming quality – it just has to be a slippery lie. There’s a huge difference between a silver-tongued killer and a silver-tongued entertainer, and someone who is just genuinely flattering and kind. When the appeal of personality is just a farce, meant to draw in to death, that’s just like a sweet scent on a carnivorous plant. It’s not a redeeming quality, it’s not “a good thing” about the plant, it’s a evil that’s all a part of the trap.
But your CM doesn’t have to have a pleasant personality, either. He just has to have some personality. You drift too far from what makes a human a human, and you fall into completely alien territory, a monster that is just a monster. Yes, a CM lacks humanity in that he lacks any sort of morality, any goodness – but he’s still, technically, a human.
And that’s what makes him so terrifying. Humans aren’t supposed to be able to get that far. Even in our romanticized black and white morality, the bad guy is never that bad. He has something. And of course a real person has more than that, because morality is grey within each of us. Each of us do things that are good and evil, some more good than evil, some more evil than good, but no one is pure evil. Humans don’t do that. And when they do, they’re not human anymore.
And that’s your key to making a CM that is truly bone-chilling. He reaches the threshold of “not human anymore” and continues to be a human. And that’s where “villains are people, too” comes into play with the Complete Monster. Your labors have put your reader squarely in the same race, same species as that utterly despicable villain.
Complete Monsters are people, too – and that’s a terrifying thought.